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Jean v. Brennan

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 14, 2016

HUGSON JEAN, Plaintiff,
v.
MEGAN BRENNAN, Postmaster General, United States Postal Service, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          ALLISON D. BURROUGHS U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Hugson Jean (“Jean”), who is proceeding pro se, brings this action against Defendant Megan J. Brennan, Postmaster General of the United States Postal Service (the “Postal Service”), alleging racial discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). In the fall of 2009, Jean was terminated from his position as a transitional employee in the Hingham Post Office. Plaintiff alleges that he was terminated based on his race and color in violation of Title VII. Currently pending are cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons stated herein, both motions are DENIED.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         The following facts are undisputed, unless otherwise noted. Additional relevant facts will be discussed as needed in this Memorandum and Order.

         Jean is a Haitian black male. [ECF No. 115 ¶ 1]. From February 2009 until he was terminated in November 2009, Jean was employed by the Postal Service as a transitional employee (“TE”) letter carrier in the Hingham Post Office. Id. ¶ 6. TE letter carriers and career letter carriers have virtually the same responsibilities in that both are assigned to deliver mail. Id. ¶ 14. TEs and career carriers, however, have different wages, benefits, and privileges. Id. The TE position is a one-year position, which requires reappointment to be extended. Id. ¶ 7. In addition, according to the defendant, TEs are not subject to progressive discipline and can be removed for cause without warning, though Jean disputes this. Id. ¶ 15.

         On November 6, 2009, Jean was subject to a pre-disciplinary interview (“PDI”) to discuss certain issues with his performance. Id. ¶ 41. In addition to Jean, the PDI was attended by Jean's supervisor John Tuley, the then Postmaster General Patrick Donovan, and Michael Bertrand, who was then Shop Steward for the National Association of Letter Carriers (“NALC”). Id. At the end of the PDI, Donovan asked Jean for his ID badge, satchel, and uniform and escorted him out of the building. Id. ¶ 43. A week later, the Postal Service sent Jean a Notice of Removal formally terminating his employment with the Postal Service. [ECF No. 96 (“Driscoll Decl.”), Ex. 20]. The letter stated that Jean was being removed because he had (1) failed to follow instructions; and (2) failed to discharge his assigned duties conscientiously and effectively. Id. The letter detailed two incidents that had purportedly led to Jean's removal: on November 3, 2009, he had failed to complete 89 assigned deliveries and missed several managed service point (“MSP”) scans[1] and on November 4, 2009, he had lost a certified letter. Id. The Notice of Removal also stated that Jean had refused to follow instructions in connection with the MSP scans based on the fact that, contrary to Postal Service policy, Jean had insisted that the MSP scan locations be given to him, and that he not have to ask for them. Id.

         Plaintiff alleges that the Postal Service's stated reasons for firing him were pretextual and that his termination was motivated by race discrimination. As the only black TE in the Hingham Post Office, Jean charges that he was treated differently than other similarly situated TEs who were not terminated for similar misconduct.

         In addition, Jean alleges that his termination was linked to an incident, from a month earlier, in which he was accosted by a Postal Service customer. On October 9, 2009, after Jean delivered a certified letter to a postal customer, the customer approached his vehicle to tell him to take the letter back to the Post Office. [ECF No. 115 ¶¶ 22-23]. According to Jean, when he did not comply with the customer's request, “she got irate then she slapped me in the eyes and face with an opened hand.” Id. ¶ 24. As described in the police report, she “lightly slapped” Jean in the face, knocking off his glasses. [ECF No. 96, Ex. 13]. She then went on a rant, calling Jean a racial slur. [ECF No. 115 ¶ 25].[2] After Jean reported the incident to his supervisor, two police officers were dispatched to the scene, and a few days later, the Hingham Police Department filed charges of “assault and battery - hate crime” against the postal customer. [ECF No. 96, Ex. 17]. Jean claims that following the incident, the defendant engaged in a series of deceptive tactics and misrepresentations that culminated in his termination. [ECF No. 61 ¶¶ 22-28].

         In January 2010, Jean filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), alleging that the Postal Service discriminated against him based on his race and color. [ECF No. 61-1, Ex. A]. On January 24, 2014, the EEOC's Office of Federal Operations issued its final decision finding no discrimination. [ECF No. 96, Ex. 28]. Jean initiated this action on April 30, 2014, naming Donovan, the Postmaster General at the time, as the defendant. [ECF No. 1]. Donovan was terminated as the defendant on March 9, 2015 and replaced by Megan Brennan, the new Postmaster General of the United States Postal Service. [ECF No. 51]. Plaintiff filed a Third Amended Complaint, the now-operative complaint, on May 4, 2015. [ECF No. 61]. The Third Amended Complaint asserted four counts against the Postmaster: Count I for race/color discrimination in violation of Title VII, and Counts II, III, and IV for constructive fraud, extrinsic fraud, and intrinsic fraud, respectively. [ECF No. 61]. On August 11, 2015, the Court granted defendant's Motion to Dismiss Counts II, III, and IV, leaving only Count I for race/color discrimination. [ECF No. 78].

         Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on February 2, 2016 [ECF No. 98], and Plaintiff filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on March 28, 2016. [ECF No. 112]. Both parties have filed statements of undisputed facts [ECF Nos. 100, 114] and responses to the opposing party's statements of undisputed facts. [ECF Nos. 115, 124].

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate where the movant can show that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “A fact is material if its resolution might affect the outcome of the case under the controlling law.” Cochran v. Quest Software, Inc., 328 F.3d 1, 6 (1st Cir. 2003). “A genuine issue exists as to such a fact if there is evidence from which a reasonable trier could decide the fact either way.” Id.

         “To succeed in showing that there is no genuine dispute of material fact, ” the moving party must point to “specific evidence in the record that would be admissible at trial.” Ocasio-Hernandez v. Fortuño-Burset, 777 F.3d 1, 4 (1st Cir. 2015). “That is, it must ‘affirmatively produce evidence that negates an essential element of the non-moving party's claim, ' or, using ‘evidentiary materials already on file . . . demonstrate that the non-moving party will be unable to carry its burden of persuasion at trial.'” Id. (quoting Carmona v. Toledo, 215 F.3d 124, 132 (1st Cir. 2000)). “One of the principal purposes of the summary judgment rule is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses . . . .” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). Once the movant takes the position that the record fails to make out any trialworthy question of material fact, “it is the burden of the nonmoving party to proffer facts sufficient to rebut the movant's assertions.” Nansamba v. North Shore Med. Ctr., Inc., 727 F.3d 33, 40 (1st Cir. 2013).

         In reviewing the record the court “must take the evidence in the light most flattering to the party opposing summary judgment, indulging all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.” Cochran, 328 F.3d at 6. The First Circuit has noted that this standard “is favorable to the nonmoving party, but it does not give him a free pass to trial.” Hannon v. Beard, 645 F.3d 45, 48 (1st Cir. 2011). “The factual conflicts upon which he relies must be both genuine and material, ” Gomez v. Stop & Shop Supermarket Co., 670 F.3d 395, 396-97 (1st Cir. 2012), and the court may discount “conclusory allegations, improbable inferences, and unsupported speculation.” Cochran, 328 F.3d at 6 (quoting Medina-Munoz v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 896 F.2d 5, 8 (1st Cir. 1990)). ...


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